The Prophets, by Robert Jones Jr.
Published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 5th January 2020
Genres: Historical fiction, LGBTQ+
Source: Borrowed (library book)
Trigger warnings: slavery, discrimination, violence, sexual assault
A cotton plantation in the deep South does not seem a likely place for a tender romance. But amidst all of the horror and hardship, Isaiah has Samuel and Samuel has Isaiah. Separated from the rest of the slaves by their roles working in the barn with the animals, the two men have created a place of refuge, intimacy and hope for themselves. Their relationship is acknowledged but mostly ignored by the rest of the plantation. Until that is, a fellow slave seeks to gain the Master’s favour by preaching the gospel.
Suddenly, Samuel and Isaiah’s love, which was once so pure, is seen as sinful and a danger to the harmony of the wider plantation. As the enslaved begin to turn on one another, the two men’s future on the plantation becomes more and more uncertain.
This is such a beautifully written book! I absolutely loved how the author used so many voices, both slavers and enslaved, to tell the story of these two men. With so many different narrators, voices and perspectives, the story is so rich and full of detail. This also serves to show how much environment and community, but also history can shape a relationship.
The choice to focus on an LGBTQ+ relationship in this slave plantation setting is also very interesting. Especially with the backdrop of a deeply religious American South, and how that permeates into the slaves’ community.
In parallel to this, however, are the chapters that focus on slaves’ ancestors whilst still in Africa. These chapters provide an insight into a culture where gender, and to a lesser extent sexuality, are chosen, rather than assigned. At a certain age, the individual chooses which gender they most relate to, which leads to the possibility of women as Kings. This is such an interesting notion and it brings forth the question of who was more civilised: the white slavers who came into these places seeking to “civilise” and demonise these people, or the tribes which already embraced individuality and self-expression?
Overall, this is a very powerful, moving and important book. I am so glad that it lived up to the hype and expectation, and I would readily recommend it.
My rating: 4/5